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John Donato, globe-trotting LI businessman, dies

John Francis Donato, a globe-trotting businessman who played

John Francis Donato, a globe-trotting businessman who played a role in Long Island's storied defense contracting history, died in Connecticut. He was 93. Credit: Donato family

John Francis Donato, a globe-trotting businessman who played a role in Long Island's storied defense contracting history, died Monday in Connecticut. He was 93.

Donato, who lived most of his life in Garden City, was born in Manhattan on Aug. 15, 1920, to Serafina Gama and Nicholas Donato.

The family moved to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where Donato grew up and graduated high school from St. Francis Preparatory School in the late 1930s. In elementary school, he met the girl who would one day be his wife, Helen Brancato.

As punishment for bad behavior, "he was seated next to the girls' section, and he ended up seated next to what was soon to be my mother," said his son, John Donato Jr. of Langhorne, Pa.

Donato served in the Army as a meteorologist during World War II. He wed his childhood sweetheart in September 1943, and after the war worked while taking night classes to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from Fordham University.

In the early '50s, Donato began his career with Belock Instrument Corp., a defense equipment manufacturer with an office in Lake Success. The family settled down in Garden City and grew to include seven children.

Company founder Harry Belock picked Donato to lead efforts aimed at landing government contracts in Washington, D.C.

"My father had the interpersonal skills. He was a handsome, vibrant individual, but at the same time was very warm and engaging," John Donato Jr. said.

Over decades, Donato also did consulting work for private defense contractors and worked for the federal government. He traveled to six continents and was "a terrific diplomat," his son said.

His ability to make those around him feel important and at ease also translated to his personal life, said his son-in-law, John Walsh of Marion, Conn. "When he had a conversation with you, it didn't matter who else was in the room. "He was talking to you and nothing else would interfere."

Donato retired at 70. He died on Monday of heart failure while visiting family in Marion, Conn., Walsh said.

In addition to his wife and his son, survivors include six daughters, Mary Jane Samwell of Annapolis, Md., Susan Recame Fischer of Berryville, Va., Ellen Walsh of Marion, Ann O'Reilly of Scranton, Pa., Jeanne O'Neill, of Wilmington, Del., and Mia Gillin of Lloyd Harbor. He is also survived by his sister, Felice Kavale of Brooklyn; 21 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be held Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Fairchild Sons Funeral Home in Garden City. A Mass of Christian burial will be conducted at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Joseph Catholic Church in Garden City.

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